As I write this article, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking his third and historic oath of office. The only other individual who has had the privilege to do so in the past was the legendary Jawaharlal Nehru. Contrasting these two leaders helps us understand how the times have changed and how we have evolved as a country and as a society. It is quite astonishing to even contemplate such an audacious comparison. Nehru was an aristocrat, an intellectual, a freedom fighter, and a great author. PM Modi, on the other hand, comes from rather humble beginnings. Much about his life before he became an active RSS member remains a mystery, wrapped in folklore and stories that he often revises at will.

While Nehru was an open book, Modi is surrounded by mysteries. Nehru laid the foundations of the secular democratic republic, whereas Modi has controversially referred to Muslim citizens of this country as “infiltrators.” Nehru viewed dams and schools as the new temples of independent India, while Modi never tires of visiting temples, praying to the almighty, and being surrounded by cameras from all imaginable angles.

Nehru hailed from wealth; Modi calls himself a fakir yet changes his clothing four to five times a day. Modi’s India is known for curtailing media freedom, whereas Nehru used to criticise himself as a ghostwriter in newspapers. Modi claims that he has written several books and is a poet, but we know that marvels of literature and history, like “The Discovery of India,” emerged from Nehru’s pen while he was in prison.

Nehru ensured that his daughter took over his political legacy, effectively privatising the Congress party. In contrast, Modi does not have children, so we may never know if there is a Modi lineage waiting in the wings. This observation stems from the fact that, until he filed for PM, we did not know about his marriage. It is conceivable that there are other aspects of his life we remain unaware of.

Despite Modi’s frequent criticism of Nehru, he seems to emulate him in many ways, albeit with varying degrees of success. His obsession with the Sangol, his desire to surpass Nehru’s record for the longest-serving PM, and his attempts to garner international support all echo Nehru’s legacy. However, Modi’s statesmanship appears to focus predominantly on Hindus. Nehru took office when the nation was ablaze with the ferocious fires of partition and has been recorded placing himself between rioting crowds to control situations. In stark contrast, Modi has not set foot in Manipur, which has been reeling under violence for over a year.

Modi lacks the moral courage but yearns to exude the charisma of Nehru. Modi’s India is angry, partisan, divided, and jubilant. Nehru’s India had just gained freedom but did not know how to govern itself. It was becoming a republic. Nehru brought in the planning commission, built national institutions like IITs and IIMs, and more importantly, created an environment in which democracy could survive and take root in this large civilisational nation. Modi demolished the planning commission and is actively shaping institutions that use force to muzzle political opponents and assert a muscular identity.

Nehru’s era laid the foundation for India’s democratic principles, ensuring that the country embraced values of secularism, inclusiveness, and equal opportunity. Under Nehru, India began its journey as a nascent democracy with a robust framework aimed at protecting civil liberties, ensuring judicial independence, and fostering a free press. Modi’s tenure, however, marks a stark departure from these ideals. India has seen a significant decline in its standing on various global indices that measure democratic health and human rights.

For instance, India has performed poorly on the Press Freedom Index, with increasing reports of journalists being harassed, intimidated, and even arrested. The country has also seen a troubling decline on the Democracy Index, reflecting concerns over the erosion of civil liberties, political freedoms, and the overall health of democratic institutions. Moreover, India’s standing on the Global Hunger Index has plummeted, indicating severe issues in food security and nutrition among the population. These indicators point to a broader crisis under Modi’s leadership, where the foundational democratic values laid by Nehru are being undermined.

Both of these Prime Ministers have engraved their initials on the tracks of Indian history. Today, India stands at a crossroads and needs to decide which path to take and how to move forward.

Nehru’s contributions to modern India are profound. His vision for a secular, democratic, and inclusive nation has laid the groundwork for the diverse society we are today. Under Nehru’s leadership, India embarked on a journey of self-discovery, focusing on scientific temper, educational excellence, and industrialisation. He envisioned India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic, ensuring the foundational values of equality, liberty, and fraternity.

Modi’s era, however, is marked by a different set of priorities. His governance style is characterised by a strong centralised authority, a push for Hindu nationalism, and a focus on infrastructural development. Modi’s policies have brought significant changes in economic reforms, digitalisation, and international diplomacy. His ambitious projects like Digital India, Make in India, and Swachh Bharat have aimed to transform India’s economic landscape and global standing.

Yet, this shift has not been without its controversies. Modi’s tenure has seen increasing polarisation, with critics accusing his government of eroding democratic norms and fostering an environment of intolerance. The handling of dissent, the plight of minorities, and the curtailment of press freedom have sparked debates about the direction in which India is heading.

In juxtaposing Nehru and Modi, we see the spectrum of Indian leadership. Nehru’s inclusive and progressive vision contrasts sharply with Modi’s assertive and divisive approach. The question remains: which path will India choose? Will it continue on the path of secularism and democracy envisioned by Nehru, or will it embrace the new, assertive identity promoted by Modi?

As Modi embarks on his third term, the choices he makes will shape the future of India. The nation stands at a pivotal moment, where it must reconcile its historical values with contemporary aspirations. The path chosen will determine not only the destiny of 1.3 billion people but also the legacy of its leaders. Nehru and Modi, despite their differences, share a common thread – their indelible impact on India’s journey. The challenge lies in balancing the past’s wisdom with the future’s potential, ensuring that the nation’s progress is inclusive, equitable, and sustainable.

In examining their legacies, we must consider their visions for India’s role on the global stage. Nehru’s non-alignment policy was a cornerstone of his foreign policy, promoting India as an independent force amid Cold War tensions. Modi, however, has pursued a more assertive foreign policy, seeking closer ties with the US and other Western powers, while also fostering relationships with neighbouring countries and emerging economies.

Nehru’s emphasis on scientific progress and educational reforms led to the establishment of premier institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management. These institutions have become global centres of excellence, contributing to India’s reputation as a hub for education and innovation. Modi, while continuing to support these institutions, has also focused on skill development and vocational training, aiming to create a workforce that is ready for the demands of a globalised economy.

Moreover, Nehru’s vision of a mixed economy, combining the strengths of public and private sectors, laid the foundation for India’s economic policies for decades. Modi’s economic reforms, including the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax and the push for digital transactions, represent a significant shift towards a more market-oriented economy. These reforms have aimed to simplify the tax structure, increase transparency, and promote ease of doing business, although they have also faced criticism for their implementation and impact on small businesses and the informal sector.

Ultimately, the legacies of Nehru and Modi will be judged by how they navigated India’s challenges and harnessed its potential. Nehru’s era was one of nation-building, setting the foundations for a new republic. Modi’s tenure, by contrast, is marked by efforts to redefine India’s identity and role in a rapidly changing world. As India continues to evolve, the lessons from their leadership will remain relevant, guiding future generations in their quest for a prosperous, inclusive, and harmonious nation.

By lavkush

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